The Iran players traipsed towards the dressing room with their jaws clenched and their heads bowed, but not tongue-tied. Their disappointment was palpable following their 4-3 defeat by Russia in the semi-finals of the FIFA Futsal World Cup Colombia 2016, but they were also proud of their efforts.
A glimpse of these conflicting sentiments was provided by Mahdi Javid, one of the stars of Team Melli's Colombian campaign. While ruing what might have been – "This is by far the biggest frustration of my career" – he was nevertheless able to take some comfort from the fact that he and his team-mates had fulfilled the pledge they had made to one another beforehand.
"We resolved before the match that we were going to give everything, it's as simple as that. It was a conscious choice. And that's exactly what we did, but it was decided by details and they didn't go our way," said Javid wistfully. One such example was the triple chance that agonisingly went begging at the beginning of the second half, before Russia had scored their second goal. "Everyone saw that we were on Russia's level," he added with a hint of defiance.
Iran may have been outplayed in terms of possession and chances in the first period, but the Asian champions blunted the Russian firepower better than anyone before them, proving particularly effective at foiling Eder Lima. It all added up to a fascinating spectacle and a great advertisement for futsal in Medellin, with stunning strikes supplying the first two goals, tension aplenty and the sight of two well-oiled machines in full flow. The second of these ingredients has been something of an Iranian speciality in Colombia, where Javid and his team-mates have been involved in several rollercoaster encounters. "That's one of the hallmarks of futsal and it's partly why I love this sport," said the attacker adamantly, in spite of the unhappy ending to their most recent thriller.
"I'll sleep well because I gave my all. Only regrets can make you lose sleep and we don't have any," went on Javid, who also caught the eye when coach Seyed Nazemalsharieh planted a kiss on his forehead before the fateful final six minutes.
"It's a common gesture in our culture, but it takes on special significance on the pitch. It was his way of showing his faith in me and wishing me luck," explained the star. And who else should go on to notch Iran's last goal, with 11 seconds left on the clock? "Sadly it was too little, too late," he added, before sportingly making a point of praising Russia's qualities and then talking up his own side's togetherness and battling spirit.
Team Melli's gutsy display made a big impression among the crowd, who responded with applause to their various demonstrations of courage and unity, including when they gathered in a circle a few minutes after the final whistle. "We're a family, even in defeat. It's in adversity that you have to pull together. That's when it means the most, even though we haven't been able to achieve our ultimate dream," concluded Javid, putting on a brave face ahead of the play-off for third place, a game that Iran so dearly wanted to avoid but in which they will now look to go out on a high.